From Our ReadersSpreading a Little Anxiety…InfoFrom Our Readers

Remember in school, there were those days when your teacher called you up to the front of the class to give a ten-minute presentation on themes in Shakespeare’s something or other? You had only finished it the night before, and you were positive that there was no way those pointers you’d written down on your index cards would provide your memory with enough fuel to create actual words. For the entire day – nay, the entire week – you couldn’t keep down food because of the stress, and so, at the very moment that you heard your name called, your body shook like a good old-fashioned California tremor.

Throughout those ten minutes you were sure you’d rattled off something about Macbeth (or was it Hamlet?), but your entire brain was buzzing like a news ticker – this just in: Ashlee is a failure, oh my God I have hair all over my face, I am Chewbacca and everyone sees, I can’t feel my hands. Do I still have hands? What do I do with my hands? Everyone is judging me. Luke is in this class and he is looking at my actual face. Why did I wear this shirt?

Now imagine this same sort of feeling when you go to cash-out at your favorite store, or you go out with acquaintances, or you even simply walk out of the door to your house. This is an anxiety disorder. Add in some numbness in your arms and legs, severe shaking, hot flashes, nausea, difficulty breathing and the unshakable feeling that something is wrong, but you don’t quite know what. This is a panic attack or, as I like to call them, heart attacks light.

What I’m pinpointing here, is generalized social anxiety disorder, a pesky demon that wants to control every facet of your social life. It places you under the constant fear of being negatively judged, causing simple pleasures of daily life that many take for granted to become challenging. It’s not that you can’t fight back, it’s that you don’t necessarily know how to or, if you do, how to gather the strength to do so. Like depression (which often stems from an anxiety disorder due to feelings of helplessness and failure), it’s a mental illness that you can’t see. And like depression, it results in a lot of well-meaning but ill-advised comments from others who don’t understand.

Here’s how a typical day might go when you have social anxiety disorder: (assuming it doesn’t involve, you know, sitting in the house all day watching Doctor Who reruns on the interwebia because battling Daleks is far safer than facing real, live people whilst running errands…obviously).

Roommate: Hey, Jackie and I are going to a party tonight. Do you want to come?

Social Anxiety Disorder Recluse: Oh…no thanks. Parties aren’t really my thing. (Oh my God, I wish they were).

Roommate: Bummer. I feel like you never want to do anything with me.

SADR: No, I know. I’m sorry. It’s nothing against you, I just get really nervous when I’m around a lot of people.

Roommate: Aw, why?! What are you nervous about?

SADR: I don’t know. I just feel really awkward and I don’t know what to say to other people. They usually just end up thinking I’m weird. (Usually what happens is I say something dumb and it’s on my mind for weeks or months or even years after and I’d rather just save myself the trouble).

Roommate: What! Oh my God, that is not true! You’re so pretty and funny!

SADR: (What! I have a huge nose. Are you insane? I’m horrid.) I’d really just rather stay home today. Thanks for asking.

Roommate: Aw, are you sure?

SADR: (No.) Yeah, I’m sure.

End scene. Conversations like this usually end up in an endless battle with oneself. “I should’ve gone. I know staying cooped up inside everyday isn’t good for my health. It’s just too scary out there. I’m such an idiot. Why do I do this? Why does anyone even associate with me? Everyone must think I’m a hermit freak. I am a hermit freak.”

The mind of a person with this type of anxiety shows no mercy. Each day is filled with criticism and negative assumptions. And they rule that person’s life. These types of people are often those kids in school or at work who don’t talk much. Others mistakenly assume that they think they’re better than everyone else or that they’re anti-social, but this is far from the truth. If anything they want to be involved in social activities, they want to get to know you, but their fears sometimes override their desires.

So who suffers from this disorder? The helpless? The weary? Could be. Maybe. But you might be surprised at how many people you pass everyday, people who appear to be perfectly normal, who are faced with this obstacle. It’s not always obvious and that’s because people still need to live their daily lives, disorder or not. They have to actively fight it and many do quite successfully. They aren’t confined to any certain lifestyle and many obtain careers that may seem almost impossible for a social anxiety sufferer to even consider. Actress Rose Byrne has talked about her panic attacks and the anxiety she’s faced in large crowds, and Adele is also known for having social anxiety disorder. And that doesn’t even begin to top the list of actors, singers, politicians and many other heavily social careers occupied by the anxiety prone.

It’s all more common than you might think, but nobody seems to talk about it. Maybe those of us with it are just too afraid or too ashamed to talk about it. But if more people open up and share their experiences, we can begin to realize that it’s not so uncommon and that we’re not as alone as we may think. It’s an ongoing battle. It’s not something that can be cured. It doesn’t go away. But the inability to be cured is not the inability to be defeated. Anxiety is something you can walk alongside and, instead of allowing it to call you names, you can remind it how it peed its pants that one time in third grade, so it totally has nothing on you.

Get help. Talk to someone. Remember that you have not failed just because you had an off day. Know that the hardest part is often the first step – the build up. And if you yourself don’t suffer from it, be aware that the shy girl in your class isn’t necessarily stuck up, she’s just facing her own demons. Or that Bob in accounting doesn’t have any problem with you, he’s just worried that he’ll say the wrong thing. Remember that they’re fighting. They’re fighting every day. But you know what? They’ll be okay.

You can read more from Ashlee Anno on her blog.

Featured image by Natalie Dee.

comments

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  1. Thanks! This is a great article…especially for people who don’t seem to understand this.

  2. This may be easy for me to say:
    Place less demand on yourself. Allow yourself to rest. Allow your failure when you know that you have done your best.
    Do hope for your future – but remember that you are living here and now.
    I´m not the first to have said this.

  3. This was a great article. I had a bad day today and didn’t make it to my classes (I’m in a certification program that has classes twice a week, at night). And I was beating myself up over it. And my mom was telling me how disappointed she was in me. As if I weren’t already disappointed enough in myself.

  4. Thanks so much for this article. I think it is so true that people who have never experienced it really don’t understand the severity and seriousness of it. Most people that I meet just think that I’m overly nervous and need to suck it up. We need more awareness like this so that people like me (who legitimately have EVERY kind of anxiety known to man) can not be afraid to face the social stigma of our disorder. So many people think that it’s just all in our heads, or we’re doing something wrong with our lives, but the sooner people realize the severity of anxiety, the better!!! This is something that so many people have to deal with every single day, and we need to get rid of the feeling that there is something wrong with us and get help! Thanks so much for this article. I forwarded it to my friends in hopes that more people will understand.

  5. It is so true. Panic and Anxiety can be so dibilitating. If it goes untreated, it starts to attack your daily life. That’s why it is so important to educate people on this issue. It was a great read and so true. The quickest way to deal with Panic and Anxiety is to educate yourself on the physical symptoms so that you are not pushing that button on a daily basis. I went through it, and spent a lot of time researching it, and then wrote about it. http://www.SnapOutOfIt.tv We are all here to share! Peace…

  6. Thank you so much for writing this article, it’s such a comfort to think it’s much more common than I believed. It’s the kind of thing lots of people (including myself, unfortunately) have trouble addressing and speaking about,it’s not understood all that well. Thank you xx

  7. When I was in high school, my best friend would have to take my money and pay when we went shopping because I couldn’t handle the small talk with the cashier while paying. In college, I dropped classes that required too much participation. I turned down jobs, dates, and even roomies because all required too much socialization. I skipped doctors appointments and car maintenance appointments. I shut down multiple blogs. I’ve had long stretches of feeling “normal” but the anxiety always comes back. It’s comforting to know there’s a whole army of us out there.

  8. Sound familiar? Does to me.

  9. I’ve often wondered if I have an anxiety disorder. My nerves get the best of me, to the point where in high school I couldn’t go anywhere, even out to eat w/family, without feeling nauseous. I managed to get that under control but over the past few years it seems to be getting worse again. I don’t handle stress well, and I’m always worried people think I’m a snob or anti-social because I never know what to say! I feel like 99% of what comes out of my mouth is awkward.
    Phones for some reason are the worst though. I worry I’ll get in trouble at work because I put off making calls for as long as possible when it’s part of my job, but my hand shakes so bad when I pick up the phone, and I start sweating in anticipation: what if the person is mean? what if they yell at me?! what if I can’t understand them!?! When I lived at home it got to the point where if the phone rang and I was home alone, I would run into the other room and hide just so I could pretend I wasn’t around to answer it! *sigh* it all sounds so silly and yet these are the weird thoughts that plague me day to day…it’s nice to know I’m not alone. How do you master the fear?

  10. Thank you for this. I’ve suffered from SA my entire life. What I wanted to add was that, even though it might seem like a good idea, a way out even, don’t start taking medicine for your anxiety (SSRI or AD). I did when I was 19. Took it for two years and then decided that the side effects were just too gruesome. I attempted to stop taking them only to realize i was physiologically addicted. I went into withdrawal. I’m now almost 25 and still working on weaning myself off. The withdrawal symptoms are far worse than any panic attack i ever had. What I’d recommend for anyone wanting help is Cognitive behavioral therapy. It has helped me immensely. As has the book “Hope and help for your nerves” by claire weeks. And if you need help in a less personal way, visit paxilprogress.org. These people have helped me through many a rough patch, and they’re armed with lifetimes of information.

    On a happy note, I’m in a good enough place now that, despite a lifetime of social anxiety, I’m just a few months away from being a certified Teacher. Not only can I get up in front of a class and speak, I actually enjoy it! Plus, I like the challenge = )

    Thanks again <3

    • I appreciate your position and it’s great that you’re able to be healthy without meds, but for some, they are necessary. And there’s a way to taper off of them that doesn’t cause side effects and you should never go off your meds without a doctor’s supervision.

    • Congrats on almost being a certified teacher!! I’m a teacher with social anxiety too. I don’t like getting up in front of the room though! But, on a positive note, I did survive student teaching in front of the room! And I am a teacher now (of toddlers, so not too much being in front of the room, but still). I’ve been on medication for years, but I’m going to look into that book and check out the website you mentioned. Thanks! :)

  11. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. I feel like it’s something that isn’t often talked about, and you really described the feelings associated with an anxiety disorder so perfectly.

  12. Thank you so much for this article.

  13. Anyone who has had heart palipitations can relate. Articles like this are helpful. Hello Giggles is a good site!

  14. I have the constant voice in my head, pointing out what an idiot I am. It no longer stops me from trying new things, or being said idiot, but it is there. Going to bed is when it is worst – all embarrassing moments from childhood through whatever happened today replay themselves in my mind on loop.

  15. yes i can relate; it’s maddening…the word anxiety gets swept under the bus a lot because any and everyone can feel it and so many people will just plane and simple say they have sooo much of it (people associate it to boredom or anger and nerves if they freely throw out the term anxiety)to say anxiety for incompetent reasons is like saying you are a person with claustrophobia & afraid of heights just because you don’t love elevators. i work really heard to hone or quiet negative thoughts and anything with anger or madness and it is hard. I look around too much and think about too much unnecessarily but a good balancing trick trick is s stretching your leg back and then holding your foot up or back and stare at a spot on the ground. i use my left brain and i don’t have much to think about then. when you mess up you start to find where your insecurity are spooning from and trying more and more to calm them tranquilly by diverting to a calm realm or you find you fall over a lot more then you really have to… sometimes it can be hard not to watch or change channels, especially when you feel like it is playing over and over in your head but other times you can find it could be as easy as a blink to turn something off or keep surfing

  16. Thanks for writing this; it was interesting to read and it’s always kinda comforting to hear that other people deal with some of the same things you do. Running errands? Piece of cake; I love it. Talking to strangers? Fine. Making phone calls? Mild anxiety, but okay. Work? Not a big deal. Going out with friends? Never happens anymore. Going out on dates? Rarely happens. My anxiety used to be so bad and I couldn’t even sit in classes sometimes, but it’s so much better now. However, it’s social things that seem impossible to me. Strangers are great; I like them, but once I have to share something about myself and someone could judge me? Nope, I’m done! I’m trying to work on that this year, so we’ll see how it goes!

  17. I relate to this so well. It’s actually nice to see the same negative thoughts I have written by someone else. I try telling people about why I might be weird if I’m on a night out, but I worry there are still some people who judge me and think I’m a weirdo, because I can’t just walk up and talk to them like a normal person.

  18. Like so many others here: story.of.my.life. I usually tell people that I’m a nervous wreck 95% of my life and they just don’t get it. My wedding day was SO hard for me because I absolutely despise being the center of attention and my nerves were out of control. Making phone calls, going to the mall, driving, interviews, even online classes test me everyday. Some days are better than others. Sometimes I can pull it together pretty well. Other days/times are much worse than others. It’s comforting to know we can all unite (but not really because we’d all be a mess) and know individually we just aren’t alone.

  19. Yes! Exactly! Oh man, when I read the SAD conversation, it felt like déja vu. It’s a pain in the butt, but if I’m close with that friend I can tell them what’s up and why I can’t go to some places. I can only go if I’m drugged up on Ativan, lol.

  20. Thank you for this article! There is so little out there about anxiety disorders, especially panic disorders, its something that everyone needs to be more aware of!